Day Nine: The Cabbage Patch Kids

The Cabbage Patch Kids hanging about at "Ze Chou".

The Cabbage Patch Kids hanging about at “Ze Chou”.

Mrs Playmo refused to be in the picture yesterday due to events beyond her control. She did not have a good day, so I went along with her request to be absent from the picture.

She had already clipped her dress on back to front in her haste to leave the house, and had been decidedly snappy and irritable when I asked why she was in such a hurry.

As we approached the cabbage patch, she started looking around nervously and fiddling with her (-or should I say Amanda Shacklebottom’s-) handbag.  “Are you expecting to see someone in particular?” I enquired, thinking back to her expression the evening before on chatting with the tall, dark and decidedly handsome Eric. “Do you think he’ll let you play with his truncheon tonight?”

Mrs Playmo turned on me, furious. “How dare you! It’s nothing like that! I’m… I’m… The vicar’s wife!” Flushed with anger and embarrassment, she ran ahead of me, and stopped beneath a cabbage leaf. As she opened her mouth to add a new lie to the equation, she was soaked from head to foot. Loud laughter ensued, and four small heads peeked over the leaf above us. The cabbage patch kids are not just a myth, they really exist in Playmobilia. They are crafty little things, and Mrs Playmo hates them (she assures me that the fact that they are Amanda Shacklebottom’s offspring has absolutely nothing to do with it).

“Are you wet, Mrs Playmo? Gosh, can’t imagine how that happened”. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. Mrs Playmo angrily brushed herself off. (Being made of plastic can be an advantage – no clothes to dry and no running mascara.). She turned and looked up at the children, shaking her fist and yelling, “I’ll ‘ave yer guts for garters, yer miserable li’l toads. When I get my ‘ands on you, I’ll slap yer so ‘ard you’ll end up with yer kecks on back to front!”

I was astonished, but made a mental note to remember her rather cool expressions for my own use. I sternly reminded Mrs Playmo that she was, as she had said a few minutes earlier, the vicar’s wife. She grunted and asked me to take a picture of her aggressors for her to show to the police. I have a suspicion that she was happy to have an excuse to visit the local station….

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Day Seven: Je Suis Charlie.

In Mourning.

In Mourning.

Mrs Playmo left home with a band-roll and two pencils last night. She asked me to help her to put the pencils upright in the grass, then taped her message to them and asked me to take the picture.

Playmobilia doesn’t have this kind of bad guy. There are pirates, and warriors, and Greeks in strappy sandals toting shields and arrows, and Amanda Shacklebottom, who goes for dates with other people’s husbands. But only Policemen have guns on Playmo Street. Nobody has ever been worried about a fundamentalist with a Kalashnikov pelting into their office and shooting everyone in sight.

When the two terrorists came out of Charlie Hebdo’s premises, they crowed that they had avenged their prophet and that Charlie Hebdo was dead. They could not be further from the truth. What Charlie Hebdo stood for is more alive than it ever was before. Did they really think that killing people could restrain freedom of expression? The exact opposite has happened. Pencils and pens were immediately unsheathed and social networks overflowed with cartoons that condemned and mocked their behavior. An overwhelming sea of support for France rose in countries all around the world. Three words, “Je suis Charlie”, were translated into a multitude of languages and so many black and white copies of it were printed that the shops will be out of new cartridges next week.

The staff at Charlie Hebdo were armed with nothing more than pencils, yet pencils appear to be a far more effective weapon than guns in the fight for democracy and freedom of expression. Snap it in two, and we will sharpen each part and continue drawing.

At the aptly named Place de la Liberté this evening, the mayor of our little village was visibly moved to see the number of inhabitants who had turned out in memory of the victims at Charlie Hebdo. Hundreds of them. School children, their parents, their grandparents, all holding signs and candles. The retired lady beside me was close to tears. She told me that her husband could not bring himself to attend; he was still affected after being in the train that was blown up by Carlos in 1983. But she was there to show terrorism that it could not win. Proof that humans are resilient and determined in the face of brutality.

The terrorists wanted to bring France to its knees, but they have achieved exactly the opposite. The French are standing tall, united and determined that terrorism will not result in a meltdown of the principles on which its society is built. I am proud to live here.

Aux crayons, citoyens! Take up your pencils… and fight against intolerance.

 

Day Six: Feeling Small

"As a tear rolled down Mrs Playmo's cheek, I realized that she  was a romantic at heart."

“As a tear rolled down Mrs Playmo’s cheek, I realized that she was a romantic at heart.”

We were late leaving the house yesterday, and the sun was setting as we hit midpoint in our daily walk. The colour of the sky slowly built up from apricot, to salmon, to vibrant orange and pink tones, and Mrs Playmo scaled the nearest tree and settled on a branch to  admire the view.

The black silhouettes of the motionless trees contrasted starkly with the breathtaking hues behind them. Mountains cut a soft line across the tableau. The birds had stopped chirping. Then Mrs Playmo’s voice cut through the silence:

“I’m a Playmo, and you’re a human. But we are both tiny compared to all that, aren’t we?” She extended a claw to show the spectacular sunset. “Sunsets make me want to cry. I will never see the same sunset twice; each is unique. Just like us. And like us, this one will only live once. How long will I remember it? Maybe until another one, bigger and better, comes along, dethroning this one. Such a waste. And one day, without knowing it, I will see my last sunset. This is the last sunset for somebody, somewhere. That makes me so sad.”

Smelly dog wriggled impatiently at my side, but I was fascinated. There was more inside that hollow Playmo head than I had imagined.

She wriggled down the trunk, dragged her dress back down to her knees, and wiped her nose on Smelly Dog’s fur. “Right, let’s go. Don’t want to be bumping into Marcel in the dark, now, do we?”

A Compromising Photo of a Compromising Photo

"It was with immense satisfaction that Mrs Playmo immortalized the proof of Amanda Shacklebottom's infidelity. Finally she had a means to get her hands on the pink and cream Versace handbag she had coveted for so long."

“It was with immense satisfaction that Mrs Playmo immortalized the proof of Amanda Shacklebottom’s infidelity. Finally she had a means to get her hands on the pink and cream Versace handbag she had coveted for so long.”

Yesterday Mrs Playmo and I decided to bite the bulllet, and stepped out for a five kilometer hike. On our journey, Mrs Playmo heard mumbling behind the rocks and beckoned to me. Creeping up through the bushes, we spotted two inhabitants of Playmo Street doing their best to hold hands as they watched the waters of the Hérault river tumble past their feet.

“Wait for me here!” Mrs Playmo hissed. “Nobody believed me when I said that Amanda Shacklebottom wasn’t as chaste as her name implies!” She pointed a manicured claw at the couple, sitting on a blanket on the rocky shore. The man was fast discovering that offering flowers to a woman on a bent knee is only something that happens in films in Playmobilia.

“It’s Marcel, the village garage mechanic!” Mrs Playmo gabbled, her eyes wide with incredulity.  “I don’t understand what she sees in him. For lack of a better word, the man’s a complete tool.”

She rummaged in her lurid green handbag and pulled out her camera. Then she was off, creeping up behind them to immortalise the moment on her camera. She returned through the grasses and hauled herself to her feet. “At last. A means of persuasion. See that cream and pink Versace handbag? I’ve been after it for months.”

I made a mental note to confiscate her camera in case she knows any human journalists on the local rag. I am starting to discover the darker side to Mrs Playmo. Under the presentable red dress and string of pearls lies an extortionist and a contortionist. And it’s only day three of the challenge …

If you are new around here and don’t have a clue what this is all about, please read “The Great Outdoor Playmo Challenge”. Yes, I am crazy, and yes, I’m happy this way. 

The Morning After the Night Before…

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“When she woke up on the beach the following morning, Mrs Playmo couldn’t remember much of the New Year’s Eve party. It was, she admitted, as good a time as any to sign up for Dry January.”

As promised, here is Mrs Playmo on day one of my January Challenge. A compromising photo of Mrs Playmo in the great outdoors will be posted every day until the end of January.

 

This is not a Christmas Post.

There are Christmas lights everywhere. The tree is up and decorated, and despite my multiple pleas and threats, it is still lurching towards the fireplace at a rakish angle as if it’s trying to leap inside. Last night I curled up in front of the fire with a glass of Christmas Spirit and a bowl of peanuts and watched the flames flicker in the hearth and the lights twinkle on the tree. But between you, me and the next WordPress post, my heart’s just not in it this year.

Warning: If you are looking for a happy smiley post for Christmas, please stop reading after the photos – this is a “getting something of my chest” post. But rest assured, this is not the final post of the year. 

….So.  As the rest of blogdom posts twinkling lights on Christmas trees and illuminated public places, here are pictures I took of my favourite baubles, kindly provided by Mother Nature a few months ago on a dewy morning in the Alsace. The spider had caught nothing but humidity, which had formed perfect spheres of water, heavy yet strangely delicate on the intricate, perfect web. In each one I could see the upturned image of the world around us – distorted and replicated in each and every bead.

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The spider had taken time and energy to painstakingly construct its web. Instinct and determination had driven it to create an intricate structure. Did it know how fragile its creation was compared to the force of the wind or a passing animal? One movement of my hand would have sufficed to tear a hole in the perfect wholeness of this delicate frame for miniature, crystalline globes. To destroy the entire edifice, sparkling baubles and all. Yet the ephemeral perfection created by nature demanded respect.

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Much in the same way, life is fragile yet sacred. When a child is born, we tend to our offspring, nurture them and use all our forces of persuasion and encouragement to help them shape a fulfilling existence. We discover that love sparks off a reflex to put this small being first, a reflex that awakens us, shaking with fury and adrenalin, when we dream that our child is in danger. Because we are painfully aware that like the spider’s web, all life is fragile and can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Today, I look at these photographs in the light of current events that have shocked humanity to its very core and think of the song “Spider’s Web”, by Katie Melua. In it, she sings:

“The line between wrong and right

is the width of a thread on a spider’s web”

This line has been crossed again and again this year, as the world looks on in horror. Along this thread, there are the tears shed across the world for innocent victims of terrorism, executed in cold blood by fanatical murderers who ripped apart the fragile, sacred creation that we call life. Cowards who took up weapons to fire at children as they screamed the name of their God. I cannot help wondering if they recognized real courage as it stared them in the face – the unarmed teachers who stood between these killers and their pupils.

The terrorists no doubt see submission and fragility in the tears that have flowed. They are wrong.

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Washington Irving

Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

When I sidle up to the hair dye aisle at our local supermarket, it is more by necessity than an overwhelming desire to transform myself into Jessica Rabbit. I’m there because I’m starting to look like a sheepdog that has been put through the tumble drier, and I need functional products that cut the crap and deliver the goods. Cosmetics marketing teams seem to consider my demand to be far too modest for my own good, and I am increasingly flummoxed by their crusade to depict dyeing my hair as an elegant and sensual experience – light years from the reality of squirting a bottle full of chemicals on my head in the family bathroom.

The Food Thing

On my last visit to the hair dye shelf, I twigged that food is one of the main strategies manufacturers use to sell hair dye. My first-world problem of choosing between brown and brown was played out to the music of my stomach, noisily duetting with my neighbour’s rumbling tummy. We made our choices. For MM, “Frosted Chestnut”, finally won the battle with the outsider, “Chocolate Fudge”. My neighbour picked a shade of black called “Blackcurrant” that would probably leave her looking like Morticia Addams dipped headfirst into a vat of Ribena.

No wonder we were hungry: the majority of the colour names referred to food. Licorice, plum, cherry, chilli, paprika or hot chocolate … welcome to a world where you don’t just eat chocolate brownies, you put a liquid imitation of them in your hair and instantly become good enough to eat. The idea of food had simply woken up my happy hormones and titillated my consumer taste buds, making the most inedible of products look appetizing. I will never shop for hair dye before lunch again, because reading about hazelnuts, mango, caramel, burgundy and honey makes me want to dump my basket and run off to raid the cake display.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her “me time” before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye. She’d let the kids out of the garden shed later.  (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Polly Pout and the Instructions Leaflet

I’m always bemused by the glossy instructions sheet. It stars Polly Pout, a sultry seductress sporting red lipstick and a sulfurous gaze. She is delicate enough to fit both hands and feet into the dwarf-sized rubber gloves, and does not have a single grey hair in her impeccably styled mane. Yep, she looks just like we all do before we dye our hair.

She is also far too young for her hair-dyeing equation to include one child staging a sit-down protest outside the bathroom door and another that has climbed on to the toilet seat and is eyeing you suspiciously, pants around his ankles, waiting for the crucial moment when your hands are covered in gunk to utter those fateful words: “Muuummy, I’ve fiiiinished”.

The marketing message here appears to be that an hour in the bathroom dying our hair is all we need to free the Polly Pout hiding deep inside us. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Although she could star as Bruce Willis’ sidekick in a parody action thriller called “Dye Hard”, Miss Pout will never make it to James Bond girl status as she appears to be all beauty and no brain. Although the instructions clearly state that you should cover your shoulders with a towel before applying the dye, Miss Pout has not only forgotten the towel, but also her clothing. So follow the pictures without reading first at your peril, and don’t forget to lock the front door.

For those who think I'm exaggerating, here is a photo of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 my instructions leaflet.

For those who think I’m exaggerating, here is a photo I took of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 in my instructions leaflet.

Glamour and Glove Love

Uber-sexy accessories are the final touch to seduce customers. Back in the noughties, the  rustling pair of transparent gloves stuck to the back of the instructions leaflet were roomy enough to house twin udders. Then the manufacturers down-sized the gloves and put them in a plastic recipient that made your five-year-old go into instant melt-down when he concluded that mummy had stolen his Kinder egg.

Recently, some bright soul down-sized the gloves again and sealed them inside a bag that resists all attempts to be opened (just like its evil counterpart, the sachet of Bee Sweat Extract & Lotus Blossom conditioner). The sleek jet-black gloves it contains are the ideal size for a pre-schooler, and getting my paws into them was like trying to fit Muhammad Ali into Paris Hilton’s swimsuit. So please wake up and smell the peroxide, guys: hands, like other appendages, come in different sizes. I’d hate to have to stain my pristine, unused housework gloves because yours are too small.

The effort to add a bit of sensuality to the mundane experience of hair dye application is much appreciated, but the slippery combination of a satin-feel bottle and undersized, silk-feel gloves was as practical as wearing a sheath dress and high heels to climb the Mont Blanc. The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics, and slipped through my fingers like a two-year-old covered in poster paint.

Thumbs up for the 30 minute wait for the product to work its miracle, though. It gave me ample time to clean up the collateral damage of suspicious brown stains splattered across the bathroom and explain to Little My that although Mummy was swearing like a trooper, had brown ears and was bursting out of her black gloves like Popeye on steroids, with a slap of red lipstick she would be as appetizing as a bowl of frosted chestnuts just in time for Papa’s return from work. Just like Polly Pout.